Mayhem and Stardust

We are the proud parents of, amongst others, Jig, who has a handsome collection of diagnoses (ADHD, AD, FASD) which probably mean nothing and a generous smattering of fairy dust which probably counts for everything. School was a huge challenge and so we decided, probably rashly, to move to the country and home educate him. No medication, no 'support', chickens, space, a farm on the doorstep and a beach nearby. What could possibly go wrong?

Archive for the tag “Home ed”

Stories

So, Jig is in school full time again. Something indefinable and yet good has happened and it is working out. Yes we have taken some steps backwards and as each obstacle arose we deliberately chose to step back in order to plan our way around it. We brought him back home for short times, and then for longer times. He stayed home for half days and full days and we kept dipping our toes back in the water, waiting for the chill of it to subside. During this time I learned the astonishing value of this stepping back, not as a failure but as a strategy. Just because school exists and just because ordinarily kids go there pretty much all of the time that does not mean we need to or have to or will even benefit from it. Some times you need to alter the plot to fit your character. School have trusted us with this and I have learned what true partnership with teachers means. My job is to parent, to create the positive internal narrative and the small world that every child needs as their firm base and theirs is to understand when my child is ready to take a step out of that small world, to be carefully led into a wider space where the outside world can begin to add its magic to the mix. Neither will work without the other. We are working together to identify which role belongs to which of us, we are valuing the essential in each sphere and we are making progress. In order to do so we have to keep an eye on the system, the usual, the prescribed norm but we need to be brave and creative enough to deviate, to make up our own rules and to do it differently. The fact that we live in a rural area with a disinterested and complacent local authority is, as it turns out, quite a gift.

It is a gift because we can just get on with doing what we know in our hearts to be right. It is a gift because every unavoidable brush we have with the system means we have to define Jig as needy and failing in order to identify the sort of environment where he would thrive. Because we can see how it has been different we don’t need to buy into that. We can tell the difference between labelling Jig’s failures (always failure to comply and accept) in order to access resources and believing Jig to actually be that list of failures. This system does not allow us to celebrate what he can do but also to nurture him and we were in danger of wasting our time by chasing meaningless diagnoses in order to get “support”.

As we rapidly approach the transfer to secondary school we are telling two stories at the same time. One of them is the traditional tale of woe and neediness, the plot includes diagnosis and assessments and a shrinking of the opportunities open to him but it is a safe and approved narrative. The other is one of potential and hope, given the right environment and supported by brave and creative people. It is a deviation, a surprise in the plot. We don’t know how this will end.

Jig 007

Responding to disidealist.wordpress.com this morning: Mediocre Failures

disidealist.wordpress.com this morning: Mediocre Failures on the impact of testing children in schools.  Actually she was particularly engaged by the notion of re-sitting SATS which seems to me to be fiddling while Rome burns.  SATS are the issue but only then the tip of the iceberg.  What we need is properly individual education with autonomous schools.

This is what I think…

I have children with similar profiles and experiences to the author of this article. There are, in fact, many thousands of families like us and we are not new. We are certainly not new to this government. We have seen governments come and go, political promises made on the back of a personal power programme of all hues and labels. I have recently become more attractive (no, sadly, not surgery) due to the introduction of the pupil premium, which gives my local school an extra £5,700 pa because we are there. Yes, it helps. Generally speaking we are overlooked because we don’t fit any particular cohort of voters and are as such of no particular use to any party. General education policies rarely apply to us, health provision does not understand us and we have little use for the rant and rage of party politics, having more than enough of our own. However, what I and many others including the author of this article have in common is that we have always had intelligent and personalised support from our schools for whom we are individuals. I have found that I am listened to and I think it is because the vast majority of teachers and head teachers would like to be able to do a good job for us. We have had really dedicated in-school support both full time one to one and more hands off, kept one child back a year (against policy) travelled (against policy) flexischooled (against policy) home educated all, some or none of our band of happy learners and we have achieved, through it all, some sort of progress towards ordinary. That, to us, is our goal. After the trauma our children have been through and the battles we have had it would be the work of a moment for us to choose not to resit a SAT (that we don’t care about and never have, ever since their introduction in the olden days when our older (marginally more easily educated) children were in school) It is just one more choice that we will need to make and not even one that we need to amass any new energy for.

I do not believe that there is any space in my life for party politicising (aka flight-feathering any politicians’ career wings) My wish would be to be left in the hands of the teachers who know their job and for them to be given the freedom to make choices on behalf of my children that may or may not suit the prescriptive homogeneity of any party policy. I would like to be trusted to know what is right or not and I do not believe that any party out there will actually back me. I will therefore vote for the one that will continue to leave me alone.

The Brotherhood

Before we went away you might remember I posted that we had thought we might try and get Jiggy into school for at least part of the week.  I really felt the need to understand his behaviour better and could not replicate the group social and academic conditions at home in order to see how he would behave if we put him back into mainstream. Also, to be honest, we had really hit a wall.  He can be incredibly uncooperative and to be successful I am sure that home education requires an element of team work, at least now and again!  I also felt that as he was getting older he would need our relationship to be simpler.  Being Mum to teenagers is about as much as either party can take I think – adding teacher in to the mix was, I felt, going to be really challenging.

Anyway, he is now doing a couple of days a week flexi schooled with very little drama. He argues with his brother of course who is also at the school but then, hey. Yes, it is early days but this first month has been surprisingly easy all things considered.  School want him in more often and I can see no real reason not to now that we have established that he can access the curriculum, should he feel like it, without medication or legions of support workers. Frankly, I could do with the break too.  I like to think that the few years at home have in some way contributed to this but I am far too old (wise?) or cynical, to start making claims like that at this early stage in the game.  He did come home last week asking what one might have to do to be expelled…

In the meantime and in order to grease the creaky wheels of any possible transition to secondary school next year we are pushing on along the ridiculously long and winding road to proper FASD support from the only specialist clinic in the country and today, 14 months into the process, we have been to clinical genetics in order to rule out any other reason for his particular and thankfully rather unusual blend of behavioural quirks.  I was expecting a bit of an in and out session (and all sorts of drama around blood testing) but was wrong on both counts.  The consultant actually knew about FAS, properly, and it only took two adults to get enough blood. Jig doesn’t look particularly FAS although his behaviour is a perfect match and that is pretty much what they confirmed today – most likely diagnosis ARND either with or leading to ADHD.  No surprises.

However, what has made me falter slightly is the fact that as we came in (as a group, this is school holidays after all) the consultant mistook Titch for the FAS child he was expecting to see…  We know – because like most parents in our position we are well read on this subject – that Titch has more of the FAS features than his big brother and he does have learning difficulties but his behaviour is just fine and so I guess we had let the reality of it fade somewhat.  Does it matter that he is so obviously FAS? Should we maybe do more, do something else, change things somehow now that we have two FAS boys and not just one?  Because Titch’s behaviour is so normal, his difficulties not social or physical but merely educational I wonder why I feel as though this is big news, but I do.

While I manage this news I must say that I did love how they reacted to the genetically correct assumption today that they weren’t brothers. They paused a minute and then both threw their heads back and laughed.  Although they know their different stories and their origins, they thought he was joking. What a team!

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Elephant steps

Since I last wrote here we have been on a wonderful and challenging extended trip to Sri Lanka.  We explored and visited, we rode elephants, saw whales, monkeys, turtles and all manner of crawling and flying beasts. We ate spicy food, rode dangerous trains, battled with enormous Indian Ocean waves and pushed through teeming markets and incomprehensible crowds. At first Jiggy was almost entirely overwhelmed and had to visibly brace himself for each new sensory experience.  Heat, scent, taste, change and challenges all contributed to his discomfort and he was very, very brave.  Only those who understand the assault that children with sensory challenges experience on a daily basis can understand the depth of that courage.  Slowly, slowly he began to relax and although he was always very clear that he preferred the Jig shaped world that we have built here he, and we, survived.  No, more than that, we passed with flying colours.

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We have come back to a decision that has required my own courage. We have begun to reintegrate Jiggy into school. Nearly three years ago we took our whirling, swirling child out of the maelstrom that was his mainstream and promptly disappeared.  That time has been very special.  We have had days that have stretched me (and him) to breaking and beyond and I have often lost sight of the goals that I set for us.  We wanted to create a space where he would learn self control, self respect, belonging, responsibility, self direction and, ideally, the odd educational achievement. I put my head down at the beginning of that process and only really lifted it when we were away this winter.  I saw how bravely Jiggy dealt with his fears and difficulties and although I cannot say that we have met all of our goals we have probably met all of them that count. I am very proud indeed of him. The child we took to Sri Lanka was not the same child that could not manage even the tiniest change, the smallest creak in routine without physical restraint. The child that could not manage sand can now play cricket on a beach…

So, two weeks into a flexi schooling arrangement and all is well. I know it is early days and that we have maintained our old life for the rest of the week but school are still greeting us both with smiles.  No-one has called us in during the day.  Jig tells me that he is only a bit disruptive.  But the big news, the really big news is that he has a birthday invitation from a child in his new class…  I can’t tell you what a massive step that is. An elephant step, you might say.

Up days and down days

We have had a wonderful few weeks – Jiggy’s big sister got married from home last weekend and the day was perfect. He rose to the occasion with elegance, empathy and enthusiasm – and how many other 9 year olds could you say that about?!  He also looked devastatingly gorgeous (which always helps!)

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The days since the wedding have been oddly quiet.  We have nothing to organise or prepare for and today we were just exhausted.  Jig isn’t particularly well and I was bone tired.  Since my self questioning in the summer I am working on being  kinder to myself and trusting the ebb and flow of Jig’s days and natural intelligence and so today we simply walked on a practically deserted beach near us in beautiful North Cornwall.   We had the sort of unusual conversation that we often have (Fibonacci and cockroaches today) and I just know that he learned more in the five minutes of that chat than he would have anywhere else.  What I need to celebrate is the fact that I did too. I am learning, slowly, that my role as a learner is just as important as my role as his teacher. Yes, I want him to know maths and facts but I also want him to learn how to be kind to himself and to make the best of the down days alongside the exhilaration of those high days and holidays too. I know more about numbers and bugs this evening than I did but I also put a new theory into practice and it worked.

I think we nailed it. Yay.

Grooming

I try hard to answer Jiggy’s questions honestly. I am a firm believer in not pre-empting answers, not giving children information they have not asked for and yet being a ‘go to’ place for answers. This is a belief honed against the grit of parenting a terminally ill child, fostering, adopting, and now home educating a complicated little beast whose questions are legion, unpredictable and, at first glance, random.

Last week, en route to our home ed group and having listened to another piece about child abuse on the car radio he asked me what grooming was.

“Well, it’s when people are nice to someone in order to gain their trust but they are planning, from the start, to hurt them in the end” (I felt that would do)

“Hm, nice? Like treats?”

“Yes, and maybe saying nice things about them and making them feel good”

“Really?”

“Yes, I know, its hard to believe”

“Its very hard to believe. I never knew cats and dogs would listen that well”

So, I re-started that conversation. And thought we had sorted it. Then, today, driving along the same section of road (this is relevant, Jig is all about triggers) he asked me if we would have to have our naughty dog Rags put down if he chased sheep.

“Well, yes, in theory. Dogs can be shot if they worry sheep, it is up to us to keep them under control”

“Or, we could just send him to the groomers”

I am a little tired today (late night, age, general grumpiness) and practised though I am, and prepared as I am to go with Jig on his rambles, this was one I found I was not, currently, able to help him unravel. I am now waiting, somewhat wearily, for the next stage of this. And looking up pet salons for us to visit.

That will need some researching. Can you just imagine the questions?

 

Jig 007

Unschooling

I occasionally feel the need to tally what we do.  Being off radar has its own responsibilities and one of these days some sort of grey bureaucrat is going to find me out and demand to see towers of dusty leather bound documents which detail, in perfect latinate script, our achievements on an hourly basis for the last year.  Hold on, this might be a dream I had…

Nightmare or not it really doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on what you do.  An article in the Daily Mail (my guilty little secret indulgence, an addition caught off my very erudite friend S who seems none the worse for it and is exceptionally good at quizzes) this week slammed a woman in Scotland for “un-schooling” her children.  There is a slight misunderstanding here.  I think un-schooling means the period immediately after you take your children out of school, during which they get the whole mainstream education bugs out of their system.  Autonomous education means allowing the child to direct the curriculum, trusting that abandoning any sort of structure will in fact be freeing rather than plain lazy.  Anyway, the Mail rather typically found a couple of polarised views and dressed it up as news. It made for interesting discussion at the home ed group Christmas party yesterday though and, as you saw, some uncomfortable dreams for me. The majority of the children in our group are raised on a mix of styles.  Some old fashioned learning; arithmetic, spelling, times tables, fractions etc usually ‘taught’ alongside workbook work and web based support backed up by much more project work, in much more depth, than schooled children experience.  Most home educated children do more craft, reading and self directed specialist activities than school children.  They visit places of interest and interact with people of all ages on a more regular basis. They travel more.  They cook, shop and manage their days more independently.

I smiled yesterday to watch the receptionist at the party venue reach for a calculator to work out 3 times £9 and caught the glances between the 8 and 9 year old home educated children who were waiting nicely (rather unlike the school party who arrived in a crashing wave of swearing and shouting a while later) They didn’t say anything and as we walked away one said to the other – “Did you round up or just know it?”

‘Un-schooling’ in action!

Nervous Anarchy

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Being off radar for over a year now I felt the need to remind myself how far we have come without ‘ support’ and although we are still, of course, made painfully aware of the difficulties Jig faces we also have a sense of autonomy which helps us to feel much less disabled. Being mainstream was incredibly costly and we spiralled further and further into needing more and more. It was a revelation to think that we could simply stop.

Since he was born Jiggy has had; neonatal intensive care team, several children’s social worker teams in two states and two countries, a lawyer, a children’s advocate, specialist paediatrician (USA ) early years intervention psychologists, full time one to one school support team, behavioural intervention team, educational psychologist, behavioural psychologist, specialist paediatrician (UK) and various casual carers and support workers. He was medicated at birth to ease withdrawal and prevent fitting and then again from 4 years to facilitate his inclusion in mainstream.

Now that we have stepped out of mainstream there is just us and an environment that suits him. I am, of course, often scared that we are being dangerously naive to think that this will be enough and I worry that we are somehow doing it wrong. However, just as often I am sure that we had no option and that this approach just needs a little faith, a deep breath and just a touch of anarchy.

Autumn Days

Now that we are in our second autumn I am struck by how  our routine, such as it is, has developed around integrating learning into daily activities and seeking out calm.  Autumn comes on so noticeably it almost requires a change of tempo and as the season changes our days are settling into a nice rhythm.  As part of ‘Operation Oscar’ (where we attempt to do what we should have done 6 months ago and train our huge puppy) we are walking more.  Oscar, Jiggy and I take the younger children to school and park the car in the village.  We then trek back down the ancient footpath over the bridge and up the other side of the river.  Oscar eats the blackberries, chases squirrels and learns to walk on a lead without dragging me over and Jig and I stomp along in the mud and play spelling and times table games (with guess the animal, at which he is expert, as a reward) I am determined to make this a whatever-the-weather part of our day and have been waxing and waterproofing our coats and hats accordingly. It makes us feel wonderfully virtuous and by the time we get back we are ready for second breakfast.  Home days are then made up of comprehension, reading voraciously, writing (what a struggle that is) learning to touch type (because of the writing issue) and increasingly, art work.  We really don’t do enough of that, mostly because Jig hates it.  I am well aware that it would be a great help for his writing skills and so our autumn days are going to be messy ones.  There is such a temptation to skirt around the things that create conflict and I am as guilty as the next pacifist- luckily we only have two home days or we’d get nothing done! We then tromp back to the car and fetch the others at the end of their school day.

In addition, we have a Peter day when our wonderfully calm and creative helper comes in to save my sanity and give Jiggy a break from me, we have a home ed group day where we go on trips and play and we have a Forest School day where he is learning to manage group activities.  With some success.  Sometimes.

Our new activity, mini rugby, is not proving easy for him but he can tackle fearlessly and is little enough to be nippy. He isn’t a popular member of the team, due to his inability to throw and catch I guess, but things have only come to blows once. I think we will bank that as a partial success. The others love it so Jig will just have to fit in around them on this occasion.

We have moved our school room downstairs where it is warmer and as the house fills with plasterers, plumbers and builders over the next few weeks we will work on making sure that we know how to find calm in the rhythm of our autumn days whatever is going on around us and that, it turns out, is what this is all about.

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